Upfront Survivor

As much as I look forward to network upfront week, it is always a big relief when it is over.

Despite the more cost-effective presentations, fewer festivities and only 16 announced new fall 2008 series (versus 29 last fall — we all knew the writers’ strike would take its toll), it is still an exhausting whirlwind of constant activity. Unfortunately, nothing new looks like it has breakout potential.

Monday, as always, kicked off with NBC. But since the wilted Peacock already announced its fall schedule last month, it replaced its annual extravaganza at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall for what it referred to as the “NBC Universal Experience.” Instead of a pompous presentation chock full of promises we all knew NBC couldn’t keep, we walked through a carnival-like setting at 30 Rock. Booths were splattered everywhere featuring talent like three models from Deal or No Deal, Today show anchors Meredith Vieira and Kathie Lee Gifford, and the Amazonian forces of American Gladiators. I even had the unusual experience of having Janice Dickinson lick my face at the Oxygen booth. And yes, I have the pictures to prove it.

While I don’t assume my peers were impressed with this mountain of puff and fluff, personally I thought it was a great way to start the week. I applaud NBC, and Dickinson, for trying something different.

I was not impressed with ABC, which presented its fall 2008 lineup at its traditional home, Lincoln Center. Two new series — reality/competition Opportunity Knocks, which looks like nothing more than summer filler, and drama Life on Mars, which does not seem compatible out of Grey’s Anatomy — is just not aggressive enough.

Citing a schedule in need of few changes, I think ABC needs to reassess opening the season with scripted comedy Samantha Who?, which only delivers because of its lead-out Dancing With the Stars. And picking up vet According to Jim and NBC reject Scrubs for midseason makes me want to take a nap. I also imagine the network will regret using the plum DWTS lead-out hour on Tuesdays with struggling Eli Stone.

The CW, which wisely positioned itself in a cocktail party/presentation combo immediately following ABC, left a considerably better impression. Although common concern points to a schedule potentially populated with too many rich-and-spoiled teens, there is an aura of excitement about the Beverly Hills, 90210 spinoff. Lead-out Surviving the Filthy Rich looks completely compatible, and returning Monday dramas Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill are picking up some steam. I also think positioning the new Tyra Banks reality/competition Stylista out of America’s Next Top Model is a good idea. But since I have to nitpick about something, Everybody Hates Chris, The Game and a repeat of Top Model are not valid replacements for Friday Night Smackdown!

CBS, as always, did not disappoint, with its still-splashy presentation at Carnegie Hall. Unlike ABC, which rolled out no stars, CBS